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Wednesday, 21 September 1983
Page: 1126

Mr McVEIGH(7.30) —Some months ago the Attorney-General of this country, Senator Gareth Evans, in talking about the Australian flag described it as 'an undistinguished bit of cloth inherited from our colonial past'. Mr Speaker, as you know, your Party, the Australian Labor Party, believes that the Senate should be abolished and that the position of Governor-General should be abolished. It is therefore appropiate today, particularly when in that bastion of democracy, the State of Queensland, a meeting is being held tonight to ensure that we retain the Australian flag, to indicate to all that recently I presented a petition in this Parliament signed by 2,835 people and indicating that the Australian flag must not be changed. That petition was presented to me on Friday night at the annual dinner of the Toowoomba sub-branch of the Returned Services League. At that meeting 15 Light Horsemen were present. Of course, they established in Australia a wonderful reputation during the First World War for their ability to survive in even the most difficult circumstances. There were also present some other veterans from the First World War. To hear them described with great feeling and an immense amount of personal admiration by the younger soldiers present as the 'bow and arrow boys', would I am sure convince even the members of the Australian Labor Party that the Australian flag should not be changed.

I am reminded too of a poll conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald last year in which 69 per cent of the people interviewed believed with very strong and firm conviction that the flag should stay as it is. Mr Speaker, I indicate that 69 per cent is a very high percentage of the vote. It is almost as high a percentage of the vote as you get in the electorate of Scullin and it is slightly more than I get in the electorate of Darling Downs. I know that by my bringing that to your notice you will realise that a significant number of Australian people do not want the flag to change.

As we approach the bicentennial year it seems to me to be appropriate that the ALP should forget about changing the Australian flag. They should indicate to one of their front benchers, the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford), that he should regret his action in being a member of a committee which is trying to change the flag and become united with the significant number of Australians who do not want to change the flag. One of the great things about civilisation, whether we like it or not, is that people pay great significance to tradition. I understand that some people do not believe in democracy, but we have absorbed from the mother of parliaments an adherence to the Westminster system and an adherence to the common law of England. It is important that people are entitled to a speedy trial. We also pay due recognition to Captain James Cook and Captain Arthur Phillip, who played a great part in the development of this country. It is absolutely essential in this era that we express gratitude. That is why we have the Union Jack. Of course, the Southern Cross on the flag indicates that our future lies in this part of the world. People, no matter where they come from, can feel at home here, free men and free women in a free society, secure in the knowledge that the Australian flag means that people are one family, that there is no place for divisiveness.

We talk about the Commonwealth Star, which unites States and Territories. Again , I can understand the Labor Party not realising the significance of the Commonwealth Star. We know that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) wants to have a centralist system of government in this country. The framers of the Constitution , by inserting that Star on the flag, indicated that we were all to work together. The Commonwealth has certain responsibilities and the States have certain other responsibilities. We do not want the power of international conventions to deliberately distort that convention. So it is absolutely essential that we retain the present Australian flag as a symbol of our national unity. In trying to change the flag the ALP is again seeking to divide the nation.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.